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Black Women Playwrights | Teachers' Guide

Artistic Choices

In writing Poof! Lynn Nottage made many choices about the literal and figurative language of the play, as well as its structure. Students can explore how these decisions shaped the play's form and meaning. There are many possibilities for discussion, including:


What does Loureen's straw hat represent? Her husband throws it out the window, and it's crushed by a car. The hat is light and delicate, but is it? It has the ability to take flight, as Loureen would like to. Though crushed, the hat can be re-formed. Loureen is a small woman, weak, but is she? When Loureen "finds her voice"-when she finally speaks up for herself-she becomes powerful.

What about Samuel's glasses? They are the only artifact that survives the blast in the kitchen. On the pile of smoking ash, they identify the ash as his; they represent him. They were the means through which he saw Loureen. But did he really see her? And when he wore the glasses, weren't they a kind of mask across his face?


Nottage uses hyperbole for comic effect. Reeling from everything that has happened, Loureen asks "What next?" with an outburst of over-the-top imagery.

All that needs to happen now is for my palms to bleed and I'll be eternally remembered as St. Loureen, the Patron of Battered Wives. Women from across the country will make pilgrimages to me, laying pies and pot roast at my feet and asking the good saint to make their husbands turn to dust.

Nottage also uses understatement, the direct opposite of hyperbole, to create a comic moment. After her kitchen is rocked by the explosion and smoke, and Samuel is reduced to a pile of ash, Loureen calls Florence and tells her, "There's been a little accident."

What about the play's use of profanity? Loureen says, "Damn you to HELL, Samuel!" Would "The heck with you, Samuel!" have had the same impact? What if Nottage had filled the dialogue with profanity to suggest a squalid, violent environment? Would too much profanity have lessened the power of Loureen's declaration? Do you think Nottage is saying that Samuel literally went to Hell? Or does she leave the question open?

What do the exchanges between Loureen and Florence tell us about their relationship? They joke a lot with each other, and that suggests a long friendship in which humor has helped both of them survive. How can comedy help people get through terrible situations?


How does Nottage break from dramatic convention? In terms of the play's action, the climax comes early, when the abusive Samuel explodes. By convention, the play should build to its climax. But the explosion might be considered the drama's "external climax." The play's "interior" or "emotional" climax comes later, after Loureen calls Florence, and they talk about what has happened. Loureen eventually realizes she is free of Samuel, and at that moment of realization, the chains drop from her heart. Whatever has happened has given her a new life, one that she is determined to enjoy.

Theatrical Skills

Theater and television are communal arts. The playwright's script requires the skills of many other artists to make a play come to life on the stage and television screen.

In the classroom:

For insights into what actors bring to their roles, see the interviews with Rosie Perez and Viola Davis.

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